Editor’s note: Despite writer Mark LaFlamme’s dog whisperer-like abilities, no one should interact with an unfamiliar dog. Always talk to the dog’s owner before approaching and interacting.

I never caught the name of the nice young couple on the sidewalk, but their dog sure was grand. 

Mark LaFlamme

“Whoa!” I declared, dropping to the ground so as to get more closely acquainted with the pooch. “Now, here’s a fine fellow. What is he, a Lab? Mind if I pet him?” 

It was a courteous question but not a real practical one — by this time, I was already rolling around on my belly, my tongue flapping out of my mouth and spittle flying everywhere. This is how I communicate with dogs. I let them know that in spite of my furless body and two-legged means of locomotion, we’re not so different, really. 

I could hear my wife mumbling some kind of apology in the human realm above, but by this time I had discovered that the dog had a tennis ball clamped in its jaws and we proceeded to wrestle over it. 

The dog, as it turns out, had genuine zeal for this kind of game and what followed was a spirited competition over who could hang on to that tennis ball, slick with drool, the longest.  

“MY ball!” I chided the thrashing dog as he lunged at the soggy treasure in my hand. “You gotta be quicker than that to best me at ball rasslin’, dawg. Why, I’ve been ball wranglin’ since you were nothing but a pint-sized pup nipping at your . . .” 

Then the tennis ball squirted out of my hands and we both scrambled onto the grass in pursuit of it, panting wildly and trying to shoulder one another out of the way. By this point, the dog’s leash had wound around the nice couple’s legs at least half a dozen times and they staggered for balance on the sidewalk. 

I could hear more uttered apologies from above, but one doesn’t let human niceties get in the way of dog games with soggy prizes. 

I don’t recall how that particular match ended, exactly, but the dawg and I concluded it by barking at each other and rolling around on our backs to shake off the dust and slobber. Then, suddenly, the beast was being led away by the sweaty and red-faced couple, leaving me to shout my follow-up questions from the grass. 

“Where ya going? Should I come over to your house to play some more? Where do you live? I can bring my own tennis balls!” 

Then I, too, was being led away by a huffy and embarrassed human and the zest completely went out of the day. 

It’s no secret that I have what is known in zoology circles — and by my own team of therapists — as dog envy. If I see a strange dog on the street, on a hiking trail, or eating from of an overturned trash can at the curb, I immediately want to play with it, giving no thought at all as to where it’s been. 

Been that way since I moved to Lewiston 25 years ago and started living in places where having dogs was no longer practical. 

I’m a cat guy now, and perfectly happy with that arrangement, although the games are bloodier (cats, I have discovered, have cat-like reflexes) and have to be adjusted accordingly. 

Instead of wrestling over tennis balls or strips of rawhide, these days all my scraps seem to be over random pieces of string, rolled up socks, plastic balls with tiny bells in them, and that ball of cashmere yarn that my overreacting wife says I completely ruined by winding it around every piece of furniture between the sun porch and the kitchen. 

The differences between cat play and dog play are many. A cat is far more apt to cheat, to make you bleed, or to just walk away because it found something more interesting to do, such as napping for six hours. 

While a dog is basically a fair and honorable sportsman, I honestly think that if a cat could figure out the mechanics of it, it would totally pull a knife on you just to get that tattered, blood-soaked scrap of allegedly cashmere yarn. 

Then it would go take a 10-hour nap in your office chair because screw you, that’s why. 

I know plenty of dog people who despise cats, and you can sort of understand it — while dogs are obedient and faithful, cats generally believe that they own the place and don’t care a fig what you think of that, dumb and clumsy human. 

I know cat people who don’t care for dogs and I guess I can understand that, too. Dogs are bigger and messier and they always need your attention. 

What I DON’T understand are people who don’t care for cats OR dogs, and who tend to believe that pets in general are a waste of time and resources. 

What do those people do with their empty hours, I wonder? With whom or what do they get down on the ground and battle for a sloppy ball or old shoelace if only to preserve their natural fighting skills? 

Because, I’ve got to tell you. On the few occasions that I found myself petless, it was a miserable time, devoid of easy companionship and on-demand playtime. 

I once became so desperate, that I got down on the floor and tried to do battle with a vacuum cleaner, but man, those things just suck. 

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